Author Archives: Paul Taylor

On repair

My mower broke last time I used it. Payback for all the times I have mistreated it, yanked its handle, tilted it on 2 wheels over a gutter, or banged it roughly into a tree stump. The chassis rusted out where the handle attaches, so much so that the handle on the left side pulled off, taking with it a nicely rectangular chunk of rusted mower.  So I did what any self respecting man would do. I left it in the shed and ignored it.

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Hotham SOTA weekend 2017

Q: How many SOTA activators does it take to change a light globe?

A: Nine. One to alert the impending globe change (subject to weather), one to take the bulb and socket to the top of a summit, one to spot when in sight of the bulb, four to replace the bulb while logging UTC and local conditions, one to take photos as the replacement is done, and one to upload the globe replacement details into an online database and write about it all on a blog.

Nine. That’s how many VK3s spent the weekend at Peninsula ski lodge on Mt Hotham for the 2017 SOTA Hotham weekend. It was my first attendance. I met Brian VK3MCD, Peter 3PF, Alan 3FDIM, Ken 3KIM, Ron 3AFW, Glen 3YY, Allen 3ARH, Tony 3CAT and Ron and Glen’s partners for two days of SOTA activations, map reading and socialising.

 Morning of Sunday 26th Feb 2017, looking out the Peninsula lodge window south.  

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Saving an Arduino-controlled DDS VFO frequency over a power cycle

Following the success of My First DDS VFO, complete with Arduino script programming, I found myself interested in mimicking more of the features of the digital dials in ‘real’ rigs. Like dynamic incremental speed-tuning, where the tuning rate increases or decreases dynamically depending on how fast you spin the dial. More on this later. A more achievable feature is to have the band, mode and VFO come up on the frequency where you left it at the last power-down. This involves writing these parameters into the Arduino’s EEPROM, using the EEPROM library.

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Three summits on Mt Buffalo: The Hump (VK3/VE-019), The Horn (VE-014) and Mt McLeod (VE-034) 2017

The annual Australia Day holiday, Thursday January 26th 2017, set up an opportunity for a break and some alpine walking and activating.  Leaving Melbourne on Wednesday 25th I drove to Mt Buffalo and camped at Lake Catani on the Mt Buffalo plateau. Mt Buffalo is a mountain plateau (1400 meters) and national park, about 350 km north east of Melbourne.  This is a sub-alpine camp site which must be reserved ahead of arrival with Parks Victoria. There are lots of good camping spots under low snow-gums, a pristine fresh water lake that you can swim in, hot showers, no drinking water, and (apparently) a population of endemic dingoes.  Just down the road is former ski spot Dingo Dell, where I’ve ski’d many years earlier.  I had no idea that it is named after these Australian native dogs.

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Mt Feathertop (VK3/VE-002) 2017

Mt Feathertop (VK3/VE-002), 1922m, 10 Points, is the second highest mountain in Victoria.  Along with Mt Bogong and other summits and highlights along the Australian Alps Walking Track it is a popular hiking destination for more experienced and fit bushwalkers.  A number of sites offer advice and information for climbers.  So far there have been 6 SOTA activations (since first activated by Wayne VK3WAM in 2013).

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QRP by the Bay 4th Feb 2017

QRP by the Bay for February 2017 was held on a blistering 36 degree day at Victory Park, Chelsea Beach. As I approached it looked like about 2,000 people had come to QRP by the Bay, and many of them dragging beach umbrellas and esky’s. Looked like a ripper of a summer QRP party. Parking the car took me 15 minutes. I wondered what Peter Parker had done to pull such an impressive crowd. Alas, when I got to the hallowed tables, there were about a dozen of us, the other 1,988 people having walked blissfully past the squid pole and BITX rigs for the golden sands and cooling waters of Chelsea Beach. Their loss.

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Yet another Arduino Nano and si5351 DDS VFO/BFO

The second weekend in January 2017 afforded time to build something I’ve been wanting to build for several years, my first DDS VFO. I’ve built a kit DDS VFO with pre-soldered surface mount parts and burned-in firmware, but this was to be a scratch build with Arduino Nano, Arduino/C code with modifications, and a Silicon Labs si5351 on a breakout board. I used the wiring map and script from Tom AK2B. It is modified from one by SQ9NJE and uses Jason NT7S si5351 library. The script is elegantly simple, supporting a single push-button to cycle frequency increments, and dealing with encoder interrupts, contact debouncing, refreshing the LCD display, IF offset and VFO/BFO outputs. At the code level Jason’s si5351 library hides the gutsy device interfacing, giving you just a handful of common-sense functions to call… for example, set_frequency() takes as its argument the frequency in centi-hertz (1/100th of a hertz) and the ‘clock 0/1/2’ flag. It couldn’t be simpler. The Adafruit board contains the si5351 and a 25MHz clock (from local IoT supplier Core Electronics).  I chose Veroboard as the substrate for the controller proper, and it proved suitable. Here’s a video demonstration of the VFO’s features.

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Mt Nelse (VK3/VE-004) first attempt: Or, how to blow an IRF510 on a 10 point summit

Day 3 of the Australia Day long weekend (Saturday 28th) was to be a 30 point day up on the summits of the Bogong High Plains, not far south of Falls Creek, starting with Mt Nelse (VK3/VE-004), Mt Cope (VG-001) and Mt McKay (VE-007). I chose Mt Nelse, a 5km walk each way, to start the day, parking at the second sign and car park after Rocky Valley Dam (first Heathy Spur, then Watchbed Creek).  The walk up is easy over rolling hill-like grades. After passing Marum Point track on the right, then Johnson’s and Edmonson hut turnoffs, the summit came up on the right, about 300m off the track. At the top the wind was buffeting. I found a threesome of hikers eating their lunch in the leeward side of the cairn which provided some limited shelter. These three mid-age walkers had met at Bogong summit 30 years ago and had got together for a high country walking weekend nearly every year since. It was their 30th anniversary walk this year.

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More power to the activator (choosing a new LiFePO4 pack)

When the time came recently for a new battery, I jumped onto HobbyKing and was bewildered by the range of options, even after limiting the search to a particular current capacity, in my case 4-5AH, and 4S (4 cells). Wishing to leverage the ‘wisdom of the SOTA crowd’, and at risk of reopening the “whats the best battery for SOTA” chestnut, I posted to the yahoo SOTA_Australia group:

I’m buying another LiPo from HobbyKing. This battery will be for general purpose 5 watt txcvr use, but will also be used to power an afterburner of the W6JL type, using a pair of IRF2Z24N hexFETs, for up to 50 watts. My question is, what do I make of the discharge figure on the LiPo packs, which varies from 10c to 35c? I presume this is the rate at which the battery can supply current under load, the higher the better. A higher discharge figure might be important when powering an afterburner, which might draw current peaks of many amps on voice peaks. Prices seem to correspond with higher discharge figures, from as low as $25 (10c) up to $55 (35c) for packs around the 4AH rating.

My only current Li-XXX asset.  

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Andrews Hill VK3/VN-020 for 2017

On New Years Day 2017 holiday, Monday January 2nd, I headed out to Andrews Hill to try my luck on 30 meters CW for a second CW-only activation. The drive is not more than an hour north east of Melbourne into the Kinglake National Park, and traffic was light. Arriving at Mountain Gate Rd by about 5pm, the 1.8km  walk up was steeper than I remembered from last time. The weather was excellent, temperature around 18 C and a light wind.  Scattered sunshine. At the top I set up for 30 meters and tuned around. A number of DX signals from the Oceania region were audible and fading from barely there  up to S5, easy copy,  including HA8JV (Hungary), JH1CCN and JA1VND (Japan). I called them with no replies. QRPers have to be optimists. On a summit like this, it is possible to copy an S1 or S2 CW signal due to the wonderfully low noise floor.

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